Tony and Debbie Hallum’s house in southwest Visalia was the perfect little rental.
Until it wasn’t.
For 8 years the Hallums rented their home to a neighbor, then for 5 years to a friend, and never had a problem. When the house became available in 2018 Tony Hallum put the listing on Zillow. “In two days I got maybe 500 applications.”
Hallum chose as his new tenant Ricardo Rasner, aka Richard Ramos, aka Richard Michael, a local school teacher and soccer coach.
Rasner said he was only going to use the house two weeks a month in order to spend time with his high school aged son, who he shared joint custody with his ex wife. In addition, his ex-wife, Tulare County Judge Kerri Lopez, gave Rasner $8000 a month in spousal support so paying rent wouldn’t be a problem.
“He was the perfect tenant,” thought Hallum.
For the first year Rasner paid rent on time and there were no complaints. Rasner had originally wanted a four year lease but Hallum was hesitant and only committed to a year.
In August of 2019, Hallum texted Rasner that they needed to renew the rental contract. That was the beginning of a year-long ordeal of avoidance texts, tirades, and a deadbeat tenant.
“I’ll get back to you” or “Not a good time” became Rasner’s modus operandi along with long rants and outbursts. He was so abusive once to a handyman that arrived to fix the garbage disposal that the handyman refused to ever work on the house again.
A few months, later on January 29, Hallum gave Rasner a 24-hour notice that he planned on doing a walkthrough because he had an investor interested in buying the house. Rasner replied that it was not a good time and if he wanted to get into his house he would have to get a get a court order.
Hallum handed dealing with Rasner, who also had stopped paying rent, over to the law firm of Melo and Sarsfield.
His lawyer, Maggie Melo, completed the eviction process and was successful in getting January’s and February’s rent. But once the Governor signed an executive order banning the enforcement of eviction orders for renters affected by COVID-19, they never saw another dime.
Rasner knew that because of the eviction moratorium Hallum was stuck.
Nevertheless, Rasner still seemed bothered by the eviction. At the end of March Rasner texted Hallum, “These are crazy times…With so much going on I was hoping we can sit and negotiate an agreement. I wanted to when we spoke the last time. Can we speak directly and see if we can come to a short term “Corona agreement.” Then I can move out or keep paying as until you decide to sell or the market improves ???”
Over the next three months of texting and phone calls Rasner blew through several promised move out dates. June 1 became July 1, then July 15 became July 31.
On June 1st Rasner said he had to self-isolate for three weeks because he had been exposed to COVID-19.
On July 2 he said he actually had COVID-19 and had to self-quarantine for another three weeks, “But send me all the dates I did not pay and I will catch up,” Rasner texted.
Knowing that Ranser was not “self-quarantining” because he ran a youth soccer camp several times a week, Hallum drove out to Riverway Sports Park to confront him. Finding Rasner with a group of young people doing conditioning exercises, Hallum called the health department and reported a man with COVID-19 in close contact with a group of kids.
Hallum then confronted Rasner about having COVID-19 and recorded the exchange. Rasner said incoherently, “I do. I don’t have the COVID results yet. This is my livelihood.”
By mid July Rasner promised Hallum that if he drops the eviction he will pay all the back rent and move out immediately. Then in the same text Rasner embarked on a list of imagined complaints including how he was getting sick from breathing mold in the house, how the new living room carpet was supposed to be torn out 24 months ago, and how the garage flooded.
At the end of the conversation Rasner agreed to move out July 31.
Landlord finally gets inside his house
To his surprise, Hallum was finally allowed to do a walkthrough of his house on July 30th, the day Rasner promised to hand over the keys.
During the walkthrough Hallum thought it was “really weird” to find a bed in the home office.
He then found it odd that all the drawers in the bathroom were empty along with the closets. When he went into the bathroom he expected to at least see a toothbrush and toothpaste, but there was nothing.
At the end of the walkthrough Hallum asked Rasner how he was going to be out by the end of the day given his furniture was still in the house. Rasner replied that he had friends coming to town next week with a truck and he needed to push the move out day to August 5. Hallum offered to rent a truck the next day and deliver his furniture to whatever location he wanted.
Rasner said “No, that won’t work.”
When Hallum went home and described the walkthrough with his wife she immediately became suspicious. She did some research and found their home listed for rent on Airbnb.
It transpires that Rasner had been renting Hallums’ home for $229 a night while claiming he couldn’t pay rent since March because of COVID-19 layoffs.
On its website, Rasner described the Airbnb rental as a, “4 bedroom 2 bath super Clean and quiet sleeps max 9.”
“You’ll have the whole house to yourself!” he wrote in the post.
Rasner also offered his Airbnb guests the rental of a ski boat for those interested in going to Kaweah Lake for $150 half-day or $300 full. “Fish, ski or wake board or just explore the lake and go swimming.”
And Hallum’s house got rave reviews with one guest commenting how much they liked the paintings, lamps and barbecuing in the back yard.
Another said, “Nice and cozy home, thanks Ricardo!”
After Hallum discovered his house was being rented on Airbnb, he figured that was why Rasner declined the free moving truck, because new renters would be arriving that night. An associate of Hallum’s videoed the Airbnb guests arriving in their van that evening.
The next day Hallum went over to his house and politely told the Airbnb guests that Rasner did not have permission to rent out his house. He then called the Visalia Police Department. The Visalia Police Department arrived on the scene and advised Hallum that Rasner had actually filed a police report against him the night before claiming harassment because of the videotaping.
Hallum’s neighbor , who had walked over to see what all the commotion was about, informed him that Rasner had been renting out the house to vacationers since January.
“The neighbor was pissed,” said Hallum.
Hallum complained to Airbnb and the company claimed it took his home off of its website.
According to public records, Rasner has several liens, bankruptcies and a prior eviction. He also lied to Hallum about his “COVID layoff” from Outside Creek Academy, a charter school in East Visalia.
Hallum discovered through an anonymous source that Rasner was fired from his teaching job for “inappropriate behavior with staff or students.” It is not clear if the inappropriate behavior was with males or females or if they were of age.
The anonymous source surmised that Outside Creek Academy felt confident firing Rasner because it had enough evidence against him to shield the school from a wrongful termination lawsuit.
On further investigation, Hallum discovered a Tulare County Sheriff’s Incident report made by Outside Creek Academy’s Principal Derrick Bravo for a stolen laptop. Allegedly, Rasner never returned the laptop after he was put on administrative leave.
The incident report stated, “Bravo said this school is K-8th grade and one of his 4th-5th grade teachers was recently terminated. He said Ricardo Rasner was the teacher they terminated and he was supposed to turn in the assigned HP lap top upon his dismissal. He said Rasner was under internal investigation at the school for inappropriate behavior and on Saturday 03/23/19 the investigation was complete and he was ultimately terminated.”
Hallum could not find any news articles on the incident and assumes that Outside Creek Academy might have swept the incident under the carpet because the school did not want the bad publicity.
Of note, on July 27 Rasner communicated to Hallum that he was currently being interviewed for a job with Visalia Unified School District.
During the ordeal Hallum remained sympathetic to those renters who have been helped by Governor Newsom’s moratorium on evictions. “I’m sure he did not intend scammers, liars and thieves to take advantage of his kindness. Unfortunately he [the governor] took the power away from judges, some of whom he appointed, to make reasonable decisions on their own.”
When reached by phone and asked about the eviction Rasner said, “I don’t know anything about that. I’m on the other line right now, send me an email.”
As of press time Rasner has not responded to our email questions.
On Wednesday night, August 5, Hallum drove by his house and saw new Airbnb guests making themselves at home.
That’s when Hallum decided to do something.
Because the eviction process had gotten far enough along in the courts before the pandemic, and because Rasner had moved back to his own residence while Airbnbing Hallum’s house, he drove over Thursday morning, August 6, changed the locks, flipped the breakers, and locked them up so there was no electricity.
He then posted a sign on the windows and doors: “No Trespassing, violators will be prosecuted.”
As Hallum suspected he might, Rasner came back late Thursday afternoon. In an attempt to open the house up for his Airbnb guests, Rasner hopped the fence, rigged open a window, and took down the No Trespassing signs.
Hallum was tipped off by a neighbor, ran over to his house and called the police.
The police caught Rasner inside the house and negotiated with him as he sat on his couch: leave the premises now and we will won’t take you down to the station. But If you come back we will arrest you. As part of the agreement, Hallum said he would move Rasner’s furniture to a storage unit where he would have 15 days to pick it up.
The officer told Hallum that if they arrested him now Rasner would just be released because it was a misdemeanor. Because of the alleged fraud combined with the “breaking and entering,” the incident was a borderline civil/criminal case and the VPD would refer it to the Tulare County District Attorney’s office to let them decide if they want to pursue charges.
The police officer then looked at Hallum and said he would put the incident on their docket so the police can keep an eye on his house.
Hallum stroked his mustache and smiled, “Did you hear the officer? He said it’s my home now.”